PM Defends Judiciary, Blasts ‘Int’l Pressure’

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Monday defended the independence of Cambodia’s courts and criticized foreign organizations for encouraging jailed opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy to create a “shadow army.”

He also compared Cheam Chan­­­­­ny and the alleged “shadow army” to Osama bin Laden and his ex­tremist al-Qaida group, and warn­ed that the court case might be expanded to include foreigners.

“I predict the case is not finished with Cheam Channy,” he told re­porters at the Council of Min­isters, adding that whether foreigners would also be questioned was up to the court.

The prime minister also said that opposition leader Sam Rain­sy’s attempts to rally the international community to help Cheam Channy were not helpful.

“The phrase I hate most is ‘international pressure,’” Hun Sen said. “International pressure only keeps detainees behind bars longer,” he quipped, adding that Cheam Chan­ny could not expect help from the royal family.

“Don’t request that I ask the King to pardon him,” Hun Sen said. “I have no sympathy.”

The prime minister again de­fended the court’s decision in the Cheam Channy case, saying the opposition parliamentarian and his supposed “shadow army” posed a grave threat to national security. Any nation, he maintained, would have acted as Cambodia did under similar circumstances.

“The formation of a shadow government, a shadow army, which has commanders, is it just a shadow?” Hun Sen asked. “So I respect the court’s decision.”

“The court is independent, and the executive body respects its le­gal procedures,” he added.

Cheam Channy was accused of forming an illegal army, but opposition leaders and foreign NGOs have said the group was only created to monitor Cambodia’s armed forces, not to rival them on the battlefield, and that such “shadow cab­­inets” are common in many parliamentary systems.

“Cambodia needs security,” Hun Sen said, and compared Che­am Channy’s “shadow army” to Osama bin Laden and al-Qai­da. He also took aim at an un­named foreign country and its NGOs.

“Don’t destroy one country un­der the pretext of democracy,” the prime minister added. “You can form NGOs, free forums, news­papers but absolutely not armed forces.”

Hun Sen’s statements came in the wake of a scathing attack by Military Court Director General Ney Thol on several Western NGOs including the US-backed In­ter­national Republican Institute and the National Democratic In­sti­tute.

The US Embassy declined im­mediate comment Monday on Hun Sen’s remarks as did the NDI and IRI.

“Cheam Channy said to the judge that he first got the idea to form his [shadow defense cabinet] from the IRI and NDI,” opposition leader Sam Rainsy wrote in a re­cent e-mail. “Therefore the judge must first prosecute the IRI and NDI since I reportedly approved the American suggestion only later.”

But not all CPP members ag­reed with Hun Sen’s bin Laden com­parison for Cheam Channy.

“Cheam Channy is not so serious as bin Laden because bin La­den is a big international terrorist, [Cheam Channy] is a criminal,” said National Assembly First Vice Pres­ident Heng Samrin. But he added that it was necessary to take action to prevent another group like the Cambodian Freedom Fighters from forming.

Lao Mong Hay, a legal expert at the Center for Social Develop­ment, said the comparison to bin Laden was misleading.

“The labeling of people…stereotyping of people is dangerous,” he said. He also disputed Hun Sen’s claims that the judiciary is independent.

“This is further control of the judiciary by the executive,” he said of the verdict in the Cheam Chan­ny case, adding that Judge Ney Thol’s comments to media outlets about the case were inappropriate.

“For a judge to comment on cases he may be called to adjudicate is wrong,” he said.

Sam Rainsy Party Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang on Mon­day accused the prime minister of in­timidating King Norodom Siha­moni.

“The Constitution gives the King the right to pardon anyone. It is not Hun Sen’s right…. What Hun Sen said was a threat to the opposition party and the King,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lor Chan­dara)


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